Gathering on a backyard balcony deemed unsafe by county building officials, 3rd District Supervisor Brooks Firestone met with residents of 6619 Del Playa Friday afternoon and toured the stretch of beach below the erosion-threatened property.
Citing a sense of urgency brought on by last week’s deadly landslide in La Conchita and the recent tsunami disaster in Southeast Asia, Firestone called for the county to hold a “town hall meeting” in the near future to better communicate with DP residents affected by the condemnation orders.
Approximately 30 residents of the apartments at 6619 DP, who are among the 48 tenants who may be forced to move out Feb. 1, attended Friday’s impromptu meeting and asked pointed questions of Firestone and other officials present from the Santa Barbara County Planning and Development Dept. The gathering turned tense at times as the property owner’s attorneys traded accusations with county staff. Lawyers for Oceanside Investments, the company that owns 6619 DP, said the county was taking too long to review geotechnical reports, while county staff said the property owners were turning in those reports late and incomplete.
Firestone said he wanted to see the disputed property for himself, partially because he felt that there is a good deal of anxiety among the students facing eviction. He said safety is the primary reason the county has paid so much attention to the cliff-side dwellings.
“We could not live with the possibility of something happening, which frankly could lead to deaths,” Firestone said.
Several students said they were upset with the lack of information the county had provided them thus far and were frustrated when county staff could not tell them exactly when or if the county would evict them.
“The bottom line is that we want to know how much time we have until we have to move out,” said Catie Young, a third-year political science major and resident of 6619 DP. “And if they tell us on Jan. 31 that we have to move out Feb. 1, who’s going to help move us out?”
Young said it was ironic that Firestone and county staff met with tenants on the very balcony that the county declared unsafe and cordoned off to prevent use by residents.
“If they were out here standing on the balcony, they must not feel unsafe either,” Young said.
Firestone said he understands the tenants face a “bad deal,” and he said the students articulated their concerns very clearly.
“I think it went extremely well,” Firestone said after the meeting. “[The tenants] were as understanding as they could be given the circumstances.”
Mike Zimmer, the county building inspector who authorized the eviction of nine DP properties last August, defended his decision when questioned by a student tenant.
“[The buildings] were not in compliance with the code,” Zimmer said. “I am charged with notifying the owner of the building that it is unsafe.”
After the gathering, Zimmer [ok] said the criticism he has received from the evicted tenants is unfortunate, and that the owner of 6619 DP has not yet proved the building is safe despite its code violations.
“My primary function is public safety,” he said. “I can’t marginalize that, regardless of what emotion gets injected into it … We have no idea if this building is safe or not.”
Lou Ventura of Oceanside Investments said he was pleased that Firestone came out to look at 6619 DP himself, but he said he still thinks the county is “playing politics” with the lives of his tenants. He said he is suspicious that the long-range Isla Vista Master Plan does not include a plan for the south side of DP.
“They’re trying to create a new vision for the south side of DP,” Ventura said, “and buildings are not in their vision.”
He said his lawyers plan to file for an injunction today if the county does not lift its condemnation order after reviewing his latest submission of geotechnical documents.
However, Kelly Burns, a second-year global studies major and resident at 6619 DP, said she and several others in her building think their landlord is the one not to be trusted, as opposed to the county. She said some of the tenants at 6619 DP feel manipulated by their landlord as part of his strategy to fight the county.
“The way they’re telling it, it’s like everyone hates the county,” Burns said. “But there’s really no reason to trust [the landlords]. They didn’t call us back until it got political.”